Commissioner won’t reopen Turnbull case
October 10, 2002
An impassioned statement from a lifelong local and an apology from her high-profile attorney yesterday convinced County Commissioner Jack Hatfield to back away from his threat to reverse a key vote.
In doing so, Roz Turnbull and Gideon Kaufman went a long way toward closing a multimillion-dollar sale of most of her 2,500-acre ranch near Carbondale.
Turnbull, who has ranched in Pitkin County with her husband, Tom, for her entire adult life, implored the commissioners to believe that the best case scenario, instead of the worst, will come true on her property. “Look at this as a positive thing ? give it a chance,” she said.
Last spring, the Turnbulls received approval to divide their property into four 500-acre lots and one 300-acre lot. The approval allows homes of up to 15,000 square feet on each of the four larger parcels and one of up to 5,750 square feet on the smaller parcel.
They came back this September and asked for long-term vesting and an exemption from the county’s affordable housing mitigation requirements.
“Vesting” is a term that refers to the amount of time a development approval is valid. With few exceptions, the county commissioners normally grant a three-year vesting period with development approvals. If a landowner fails to build within the vesting period of their approval, they must reapply for a development approval and face possible changes in the land-use code.
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On Sept. 25, Commissioners Jack Hatfield, Shellie Roy and Dorothea Farris voted 3-0 to grant 20-year vesting and exempt the property from affordable housing regulations. Less than a week later, the Turnbulls announced the pending sale of their property to billionaires Les and Abigail Wexner for a yet to be disclosed price.
They also announced that the Wexners plan to continue ranching the property, raising cattle and cutting horses, with their son, Mat Turnbull, as ranch manager.
“To find a buyer who will continue to ranch and hire our son was like a dream come true,” Roz Turnbull said.
But she and Kaufman said that dream was threatened if the long-term vesting and the affordable housing exemptions were voided.
Hatfield had threatened to reverse his vote because he felt deceived by the fact that Kaufman and the Turnbulls never mentioned the pending sale during the hearings last month. He said he had the impression that the Turnbulls planned to stay on the property.
“My concern was about the representations made during the last hearing in September ? that the facts weren’t on the table,” Hatfield said before announcing that he had decided against reopening the question.
Hatfield was particularly bothered by Kaufman’s Sept. 25 statement that the family wanted to avoid any pressure to develop the land that comes with short-term vesting. He also said they have no plans to put large houses on the property for at least the next 10 to 15 years.
Kaufman apologized if his statements misled the commissioners. He also reminded them that the approval remains in effect no matter who owns the land.
Hatfield’s vote was necessary for the issue to be reconsidered, because he was one of three commissioners who originally voted in favor. The law requires that a motion to reconsider a matter be made and seconded by board members who voted in favor of that matter the first time around. Farris also appeared willing to reconsider, but Roy did not. Without Hatfield, the motion to reconsider could not pass.
Commissioner Mick Ireland, who cut short a bicycle trip in Utah to participate in the discussion, pointed out that long-term vesting ? apparently a condition of the property’s sale to the Wexners ? provides great benefit to the Turnbulls and Wexners without a similar return for the county.
Whoever owns the ranch for the next 20 years has the option of developing 500-acre lots with large houses, but they are not required to develop it that way, Ireland noted. If they want to put more homes on the land, they are welcome to do so, provided they go through a new approval process.
“I continue to think that large, 15,000-square-foot houses should be located in urban areas where services and infrastructure are located, but I know the marketplace calls for something else,” Ireland said.
But Roz Turnbull’s father, rancher Bob Perry, noted that the county is getting a good deal, even if large homes are built on the 500-acre lots. “The county is getting a lot of open space without buying it,” he said.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]